Commando training: Jungle Warfare in Belize

Spr Eddie Joseph

Spr Eddie Joseph

I was told early on, that winning the Green Beret is only the beginning of the Commando story; that you can only start to become a Commando when you have acquired the skills to operate in the four key terrains a Commando might have to fight in (Mountain/Artic, Desert, Temperate and Jungle). I was reminded of these words when digging snow holes in Norway and when carrying out cliff assaults in the Deserts of Jordan. The final piece of my Commando development would be to become adept in the art of jungle warfare.

We’ve all seen films like Predator and Platoon, and up and until now this was my only knowledge of “the jungle”. Watching these films made the jungle look daunting, at least from a soldier’s perspective. Section members have difficulty seeing each other, so can’t easily coordinate fire and movement. Directing fire on targets hidden by thick foliage is a significant challenge. Weapons, which in other circumstances can fire accurately for hundreds of metres, are much less useful when you can only see a few metres in front of you. And if you are operating in a mountainous area then visibility is further restricted by the frequent mist and heavy rain. These problems are compounded as all movement becomes greatly slowed. So to maneuverer an attack force proficiently in the jungle requires high levels of training.

I should point out that we were not acting in our Engineer role and that we were to be integrated into a Commando Rifle Company, of 45 Commando. There is always a fair bit of banter when we first start working with Royal (Royal Marines) but when they see that the Sappers can match or, in many cases, exceed them in terms of skills and fitness, they soon develop a healthy respect (although they wouldn’t admit it) which sees the difference in cap badge become a matter of irrelevance. It is training such as that undertaken on Exercise Curry Trail that makes interoperability among the various 3 Commando Brigade elements work so well.

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

As we awoke to our first morning in the jungle, the heat and humidity hit us hard. We had been warned about it but nothing quite prepares you. Yes there were tropical bird singing in the trees but there were also a host of villainous insects that saw us as a source of food.

We attended a briefing on the itinerary for Exercise Curry Trail and what we could expect from the jungle. The list of potential dangers was long, ranging from snakes and ticks to trees with sap that could blind you. However none of the lads seemed particularly concerned as we were all looking forward to getting stuck in. We had a little respite so we could gather ourselves and then it was straight into lessons on the vital skills needed to survive in a CCTE (close country tropical environment).

Over the next few days we woke up at 5:30 to smash some phys (physical training) and then a breakfast of rations cooked by the Royal Marine chefs. In the morning we had theory lessons on the effects of operating in the jungle environment and then practical sessions in the afternoon. The practical sessions focused on radio use among the trees, river crossings and patrol techniques. We trained contact drills and casualty evacuation with full-scale kit Bergens, webbing and our weapon system – of course. Throughout all of this the heat was bearing down and the ground underfoot was quickly becoming a marshland, however this kind of adversity makes an Army Commando feel at home, so we got stuck into the practical’s with gusto.

The day before we went into the field we were given another dangerous animals brief at the Belize Zoo. The zoo staff provided a comprehensive lecture about snakes and then took us to see some of the other animals we might come across in the jungle. It was marvellous to see jaguars and pumas up close; such magnificent creatures.

When we returned to the barracks we did a final equipment preparation and the anticipation was building, we were all eager to get under the canopy and experience the jungle for real. Then came the time for us to depart; we boarded our transport and were waved off by the friendly locals. I must add at this point, the local people were a very accommodating and kind people, and appeared to hold us in warm regard.

Our first day in the jungle focused on CTR (close target reconnaissance). It was the first time we experienced the weight of the Jungle Bergen as we yomped in the heat of the midday sun, in order to conduct a CTR on a target. The dry leaves and bush made tactical movement difficult, as the noise involved in moving could easily have given our position away. We managed to move stealthily into the enemy position to gain information on their operations and just as silently we withdrew back into the undergrowth.

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Next was Demolition Day, using improvised Bangalores and Claymores, with frag flying over your head as you lie behind some logs, all the time making sure that the log dwelling critters didn’t decide upon you as their supper.

Survival Day taught us the different stances such as shelter building, animal trapping and fire building. The trackers from the Belize Defence Force slaughtered a pig and chicken, in order to teach us how to skin an animal. Then they treated us to barbecued pork and chicken followed by fruits; it tasted better than any Gordon Ramsay effort. After that the sections went off to build a shelter and spend a night out in the wild. Eight of us slept side by side in a shelter that looked slightly different to the ones we had been shown, although they did us proud and kept us alive for the night.

Survival training

Survival training

Long Range Patrolling was the focus for the next day. We yomped through the swamps keeping a watchful eye for the crocodiles, as you can be sure they are keeping a keen eye out for you! I still haven’t found a page in our Aide Memoire on how to handle a meeting with a big ol’ croc.

That evening we had our first wash, which was welcome as the odour emanating from the patrol could only be described as hostile to our olfactory senses. I slept soundly in my hammock that night, as the preceding days training had been gruelling.

The next day saw us practicing Live Firing. We started off with CQC (Close Quarter Combat), this involved moving down a lane making contact with targets as they appeared from the foliage. The difficulty of operating in the jungle was immediately apparent, as I was up to my waist in a swamp as I fired and moved on to the next target.

Back in our harbour we were “Non-Tactical”, so all around the lads were making use of their newly acquired skills by constructing benches, seats and an excellent door for our head (toilet).

Following on from the previous day, we advanced on to Fire Team Drills, progressing through the jungle until we came across a target at which point we would engage the echelon back out of the danger area. As soon as the Point Man’s light machine gun burst into action, the team would move-out as our drills had taught us. The ground underfoot was some of the worst I had experienced and yet again up to my waist in swamp, with large exposed roots that trapped your boots, to contend with. Nonetheless, we pushed back until it was deemed we were out of contact. After “stop” was called we received our debrief. (I’ve used a lot of technical terms here, but should you choose to become a Commando, then you will know these like the back of your hand).

The final element of our jungle training consisted of a section attack on a mock enemy position. We set off on patrol and just off the target the Point Man raised his hand and gave the gesture to fan-out. We moved like ghosts through the trees, synchronizing our movements until we reached our line of departure. We unleashed a torrent of bullets down the range at the Figure 12 targets, then began moving through the position, I was deep in vegetation on the right flank, ensuring that there were no targets in the trees that would represent snipers. Just as the momentum was building we heard the cry “STOP”, so we ceased fire and applied the safety catches to our weapons. I stopped and waited for info to be passed down the line. In the centre of our formation a medic rushed forward to one of the men. One of our guys had been hit by a tree, the tree was shredded by machine gun fire and had fallen on him. The safety team played it safe sent him off in the military ambulance, in case of any potential breaks (we later learned it wasn’t a serious injury).

Spr Magee with improvised claymore mine

Improvised claymore mine

The remainder of the assault force moved forward to the start of the enemy camp and began clearing the huts. The forward line of exploitation set up an improvised Claymore, then moved back to cover. The enemy advanced and walked straight into the range of the Claymore. With the job done we extracted back through the camp. It was a great experience, which everyone enjoyed. Well perhaps not the chap who got a tree on the bonce.

The final week was the final exercise, testing all the skills we had learnt in a fully tactical real time exercise.

After deploying, our section were sent to recce a small enemy camp. Later we assaulted it holding it for the following day, then finally moving to support a company scale attack on a 4 kilometre area of primary and secondary jungle. With our troop assaulting down a sheer, dense gradient the going was tough but an unforgettable experience. At the end of the exercise we sat exhausted in good spirits reminiscing at the funny experiences of a few weeks well done.

My time with 24 Commando is coming to an end and I can honestly say that from the top down, 24 Commando has in its ranks some of the nicest people you could ever wish to serve with. Yes you must respect the rank structure but this respect will be reciprocated and you will be afforded unstinting support in all things you do in the Regiment. If you are reading this and trying to decide upon which Commando Unit to join, then you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t at least look at what 24 has to offer.

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Desert soldiering: Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan

Sapper Eddie Joseph

Sapper Eddie Joseph

 Sapper Eddie Joseph is an Army Reservist with 131 Independent Commando Royal Engineers based in Birmingham. A heating engineer by trade, the 25-year old is currently serving on attachment with 131’s paired regular unit, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment. Sapper Joseph is 8 months into a year-long engagement and has just returned from providing close engineer support to 40 Commando Royal Marines on Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan. He describes his experiences of desert soldiering in this blog.

 

We reached our desert placement late at night and established a harbour with the vehicles.

As dawn broke I surveyed the stark, barren landscape that we were to inhabit. The camp had been sited on a flat plain surrounded by jagged, rocky terrain. Gusts of wind blew up great clouds of dust that nearly choked us, and found its way into all our kit. Everything smelt burned and blasted.

0600 reveille and we set about putting up tents for the marines prior to their arrival. Containers packed with supplies arrived throughout the day and night. This work, along with the water tank and force protection, continued beneath the hot desert sun. The temperature dropped dramatically at night and as we patrolled the perimeter our night vision goggles gave the desolate landscape an eerie glow.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

 

The flat ground on which we build our camp.

The flat ground on which we build our camp.


I took stock of our surroundings. Within a few days dust and rock had become a proper military camp: a hive of activity. The British Military, with its ethos of hard work and good organisation, had arrived.

The camp, which had begun as a linear vehicle harbour, had expanded rapidly. 18×24’ tents sprang up day and night like mushrooms. It would peak as a 1000-man base enclosed by hundreds of metres of dannert coil and barbed wire that we had erected in the oven heat, smashing in pickets before lifting the razor wire on. We built shower frames and dug out the drainage.

One of the wire fences we built.

One of the wire fences we built.



By now the Royal Marines had arrived and the field kitchen, providing fresh meals, was established. We began to get some respite from the engineering tasks. Range days were started. Instructors who’d studied in the jungles of Asia taught us how to read signs and spoor left by enemy movement. We learnt ground signs awareness, engine maintenance and vehicle recovery in a desert environment.

We spent our evenings playing risk and poker by torchlight. When Arabic lessons became available I eagerly signed up, keen to expand my cultural awareness. I set upon the locals who worked on camp with my broken Gulf tongue, missing no opportunity to ask  them ‘how are you?’ and greeting them with a cheery ‘peace be with you’. They soon became a lot harder to find!

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

 

Taking a rest between duties.

Taking a rest between duties.

Our section provided demonstrations for medic training and mine clearance lessons. We used our own time to keep fit, venturing out into the surrounding area on long distance runs and hill reps. On one occasion we happened upon a Jordanian army training village. We sat down to rest in a bullet ridden building as the flaming sun set over the desert, an experience one does not come across often.

The camp held a sports afternoon before a day of operational stand down (OSD). We played games of football and volleyball, which I am duly obliged to report that my section expertly won.  Then, for OSD we were taken to Petra – a city literally carved from sandstone cliffs. It was a fantastic place with monuments rising up the sides of the canyon. It began life as Nabataean tombs, and has since played host to Romans, venturesome Crusaders – and now some portly tourists.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.


The next morning we packed our kit, ready to rotate with the section manning the water point at Aqaba port. The water point, next to the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, made a welcome change from the desert. By pumping seawater through a series of filters and adding a dosed amount of chlorine we could produce potable water for the base in Al Qwarah.

I spent the time between checks exercising in our makeshift gym. It passed quickly. Then I was called back to participate in a vertical assault course with two fellow sappers.  We were trained by mountain leaders to ascend and descend steep faces and cliffs with weapons and equipment, Commando skills we’d previously learned but which demand constant practice.

We were taught how to make improvised stretchers like the clove hitch or roscoe, so that we can evacuate casualties from remote areas. At night I could hear gunfire as 40 Commando practiced live firing in the distance. I remember sitting on a rocky outcrop waiting to abseil down the cliff, watching tracers and flares going off across the desert, lighting up the sky like fireworks.

The following day we embarked upon a navigation exercise around the surrounding area, yomping up to heights of 1300 metres. At each high point we tackled section tests. Stances included judging distance, map reading and medical training that tested patient care and evacuation technique. On some evenings the cultural advisor gave us briefs on subjects such as the formation and history of the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

We then moved into our second special-to-arm package that consisted mainly of demolitions and urban combat training. We spent the days practising compound clearance, advancing our skill level and using explosive charges to gain entry into otherwise difficult to attack buildings. Concentration and attention to detail were vital.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a breaching charge exploding a couple of metres away from you as you prepare to assault a building.

 

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.



The temperature had begun to fall dramatically at night, partially due to the altitude of the camp. Our nightly showers became colder and colder. Then, our second OSD day signified the approach of the final few weeks. Our stand-down took place at a hotel in Aqaba. It’s always the simple things you miss, and we had a few hours to enjoy a resort with proper showers, porcelain toilets, and a jacuzzi on the roof. I returned to camp that night with a very much-needed haircut (I’d begun to look like some sort of Bedouin Rastafarian) and some good memories.

The following days were spent building a culvert: a pipe that would redirect flash flood water from a road. Once that was done we drove an hour north, to a training camp where we worked like Trojans to build a protective fencing in what felt like record time. At night we told stories around the fire and slept beneath the stars.  It was soon time to return to Al Quwayiyah, and as we returned in convoy we were treated to some fantastic sunset views out over the vast mountain range.

After living with my fellow troops in such a close knit community I felt a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues that’s as old as military life itself. On a personal level I feel privileged to know that I have people around me in 24 Commando who I trust and respect, and whose friendship will last a lifetime.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.



On Remembrance Day we went to a nearby cairn upon which a cross had been built. The padre read sermons and the flag bearers stood proud on the higher ground. The post sounded and we took our silence. Remembrance Day parade is a time of reflection for me, the tradition, the fallen, the pride of the service and the country we serve. Around the world people were united in prayer and remembrance.

Our rotation on guard arrived and we took our posts at each gate. Working the laborious ‘four hours on, four hours off’, we ensured that the security of our camp was maintained. Night passed quietly with only the occasional hound – the wraiths of the desert – to usher away as they came to root through the bins.

Finally, we sat around our kit with nothing but the sand and mountains left, just as it had been when we arrived. I thought back over the many experiences I’d had. We piled on to troop carrying vehicles and headed to Titin camp near the port.  There we waited for RAF transport home on the big grey bird of freedom.

Hot showers, Wi-Fi and cooked meals were welcomed, as was the first proper bed in two months – even though it was a near-falling-apart bunk bed.
As the hour drew closer to the flight my anticipation grew. A cold beer and the UK’s unique weather system beckoned.  We got on transport to the King Hussein International Airport and the journey back began, with a 5 hour flight followed by another 4 hours by bus. Soon we were a world away from the sands and heat of Jordan and back in the familiar company of rain and grass. It had been an enthralling escapade and I was happy to be home – but I couldn’t help wondering what adventure awaited us next.

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar,

And what we have been makes us what we are.”

― George Eliot

 

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Commando training: Cold Weather Warfare in Norway

Commando training: Cold Weather Warfare in Norway

Sapper Joseph

Sapper Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE). Having successfully completed the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC), culminating in earning the coveted green beret, we follow him through his subsequent training. 

An Arctic adventure

Since being awarded my green beret, a whole new world of opportunities had opened up to me. Two offers were immediately thrown at me upon my return to the unit. The first was the chance to undertake the Cold Weather Warfare Course (CWWC) in Norway, and the other was to join 24 Commando (our regular counterpart) for a year’s attachment as part of the Lead Commando Group. I accepted both.

I returned home to inform my family that I would be off for the next year or so -as you do – and was pleased to find that all in the Joseph household shared my contentment. I was also delighted to learn that my younger sister (who has followed me into the Army Reserves) had won numerous gold medals and bagged the Reserve Forces Nordic Ski Title (at the RLC Ski championships) during my absence.

The day of departure came, and Spr Holt met me at my home to share the journey to the Joint Air Mounting Centre (JAMC). Our flight was set for 0200 and as always I was pleased to be meeting up with the 131 and RMR (Royal Marine Reservist) lads. One of the RMR’s informed me, in an animated manner that we were to be travelling on a Danish Air Force C130. Having previously travelled to Gibraltar on the back of a Hercules, I was less excited about sitting shoulder to shoulder in the netting seats for six hours or so. When we did eventually get on board I somehow managed to sleep through most of the flight, snoring in concert with the plane’s engines I’m told.

Upon arrival at Evenes airport we were quickly ushered on to the awaiting transport for the journey to Asegarden Camp. Asegarden isn’t the most inviting of camps but we got down to camp routine, sorting the billets out and finding someone to issue us our cold kit. In the afternoon we received various safety briefs and were given an overview of the instruction program, which would involve a lot of time in the field.

Aurora Borealis

A snow-covered Land Rover

A snow-covered Land Rover

The next morning I emerged from my billet to find the ground outside had turned into the most horrendous ice rink. Getting from A to B took some doing and was one of many reminders of how quickly things can change in the Arctic. After lessons on how to pull a pulk (a snow sledge used to pull equipment on) we moved on to avalanche theory and survival techniques. With each new bit of information we were edging closer to living outside in the Arctic hinterland. It wasn’t long before we were jumping on to the SV’s for the move into the wilds of the Setermoen training area.

I was hoping that we would encounter less ice and possibly find some nice dry snow on which to ski, but the BV’s (tracked vehicles) had annoyingly compacted the routes into icy passages. So after a lot of difficult manoeuvre on snow shoes we found our way to the harbour area and commenced digging a space for our ten-man tents. It is crucial in the Extreme Cold Weather to have shelter to retreat to; the peculiarly named “snow grave”.

Tents setup, we transferred over to the ski area to start the practical part of our ski training. It took some getting used to, but as when night began to fall I was starting to move around in a more composed and controlled manner. That evening on a night ski we were fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis for the first time.

Ice Breaker drills

The next day we practiced our pull pole routine and continued with the ski training. The ground we were training on was becoming increasingly steep which was tough going in the icy conditions. You find it is much harder to complete tasks in the cold conditions and inconsequential actions, like touching the metal parts of your weapon without gloves on, can lead to injury. Perhaps one of the biggest dangers comes when you are sleeping. It is rare, but on occasion the ventilation holes in your sleeping area can become blocked. So a candle watch is instigated, and if the candle flame begins to flicker then you are beginning to breathe dirty air, which requires you to investigate the problem and likely save the lives of the sleeping patrol members.

The next day we pulled pole and moved to the second harbour area. There had been a fresh covering of snow, so our movement on skis was beginning to show a marked improvement. But as one skill becomes mastered you start to think of the next challenge in the training serial. So for me the anticipation of the “ice breaking drills” began to grow. If you are fighting in an Extreme Cold Weather environment it is likely you will have to cross a frozen water feature at some point. The Ice breaker drills simulate ice breaking underfoot and a commando entering the water; it teaches you what is required to extricate yourself from the freezing water.

The morning of the “ice breaker drills” arrived, and I was to be one of the first in. I think with a lot of things like this, the expectation can be worse than reality, but there is definitely a sense of unease before you go in, though if I’m honest I was actually looking forward to having a bash. So there I was, standing on the edge of the freshly cut ice hole, the dark and murky water waiting to embrace me. The ML put the safety rope around my shoulder and got me to sling my bergen over one shoulder. Next there was a call of “ready” followed by a firm shove into the oggin. The water was liquid ice, so I had no problem performing a speedy exit. When you exit the water you run to a makeshift bar, where you are given a tot of rum and told to toast the Queen. It’s these little eccentricities that keep your spirits up. Indeed the morale of the group was lifted after the ice drills and despite my feet feeling frozen for what seemed like an age, I was looking forward to going into Harstad to try my hand at learning a bit of Norwegian.

Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos training in Norway.

Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos training in Norway.

Cross-country yomp

The weekend passed and we headed into phase 2 of the training, which was to be field based. We received the stores and headed back out to the training area to build quinzhees, which are little snow mounds used for shelter. Once finished, we headed up the mountain. As we moved up we were greeted by sleet, snow and harsh wind. Digging the snow holes and tents at height was tough going, but as the temperature began to drop into the double digit minuses our work began to take on greater urgency. During the dig, I stopped momentarily to adjust my kit, whilst turning to look across the vast snow covered forest beneath me. Gazing across the surrounding landscape made me appreciate how lucky I was as a commando sapper, to get to visit places that many rarely do.

We completed the shelter building and commenced the night time ski patrols. Conditions had worsened and the wind was blowing at 30-40 mph, but it was made especially severe by the accompanying icy rain. That night I was pleased to return to my shelter and savoured the feeling of being warm.

The team in Norway.

The team in Norway.

The following morning we destroyed the harbour to return to our first harbour, which was dotted with the little quinzhees we’d previously made. After a day of skiing and practicing drills we bedded down for the night retiring to our shelters like tortoises retracting into their shells. The respite was to be short, as we would need to start early for a cross country yomp across the mountains and frozen lakes. The snow yomp with heavy bergens was extremely taxing and distances appeared much further than what they actually were. About two thirds of the way into the yomp, the weather deteriorated to such an extent that we were forced to take an escape route to avoid potential disaster.

The end of the training serial was fast approaching and after the unavoidable end-ex admin, we were given two interesting briefs from the RMR RSM, including on Shakelton’s exploits. CWWC complete, I’m now embarking on a year’s Full Time Reserve Service (FTRS) with 24 Commando Regiment RE.

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Green beret quest ends with success

Commando training: Green beret quest ends with success

Sapper Ed Joseph with the Parker Trophy

Sapper Ed Joseph with the Parker Trophy

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Crowning achievement

The story hasn’t quite finished! A ceremony was held the next day for an award called the Parker Trophy. This is presented for the best performance on a course for soldiers attending the Regular AACC. It is something which is not normally awarded to Reserve Forces unless the DS feel there has been a superior effort made.

Now it is hard to say this without sounding boastful, and I must make it clear that this is absolutely not my intent, but I was later to discover that I was to be awarded the Parker Trophy for my efforts. I was truly staggered to receive this prestigious award. While humbled by the recognition, I felt it was an award which could easily have been given to any of the other lads, none more so than Joe Holt, who for me was the real star of the show.

He wasn’t quite there yet though. Friday was to be Joe’s final attempt at the endurance, and he went off with a clear weight on his shoulders. The ‘131’ guys waited, willing Joe to get through, especially as all of us going through together would be our crowning achievement.

A short time later Joe returned with a dejected look on his face. I prepared my words of pity. Without warning, his downcast face broke into the largest of smiles as he took out his green beret. Although limping, he had overcome the endurance course on his third attempt. And let’s not forget the mere 30-miler he also completed in that time. So we’d done it, 131 had finished the course with a 100 per cent pass rate.

The biggest failure you can have on the course is to simply give up. The key to success is maintaining self-belief, remaining steadfast, and being prepared to go beyond the limit that ordinary people set themselves.

Well that’s where this update ends for now; but the fun has only just started. After a short break my next stop is Norway, for the Cold Weather Winter Warfare Course (CWWWC). They say it’ll make the commando course seem easy…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt6

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt6

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Muffled thud of boots

The day of reckoning had arrived and we were to attempt the 30-mile speed march across Dartmoor. Some question whether you should eat a big breakfast before the test. Personally I found that it was better to get as much stodge on board as possible but to do so at least a couple of hours before the start of the test. You use so much energy over the 8 hours that you need the carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up. So after a hoofing breakfast the 30 Miler began.

I had been really lucky up until this point and hadn’t suffered any form of injury minus the little niggles that are unavoidable. I got into a rhythm, and simply enjoyed drinking the fresh morning air as I listened to the muffled thud of boots hitting the grass pathway. The first stop is about one and a half hours into the march.  Here you are given water replenishment and a slight rest before hitting the second leg.  We pushed on, the sun having risen to reveal some of the most breath taking views in the UK. If you are able to focus on the amazing vista around you, then the challenge of running such a long distance doesn’t seem quite so severe.

After a long slog over Dartmoor we reached the final rendezvous point. The waiting Directing Staff (DS) immediately started thrusting ‘oggies’ (pasties) into our hands, with the gusto of an enthused kebab seller. In that lively manner the DS seem to possess, he instructed us to consume our oggies with haste so we could crack on with the last leg. You wouldn’t think a greasy pasty would be so welcome, but I could have eaten a second.   After squaring ourselves away it was on to the iconic bridge that marks the end of the 30 Miler. We ran this final leg elated, the fatigue momentarily absent.  It was marvellous to see the smiles on the faces of those who had been in our shoes before clapping us in, as you knew they fully appreciated what we had be through.

Receiving the green beret from the Brigade Commander.

Receiving the green beret from the Brigade Commander.

After the customary handshakes and back patting we moved to the area where our green lids were to be presented. Forming up in three ranks, we were introduced to the Brigade Commander (BC) who would present us with our berets. As the BC drew closer to me, I could feel the beginning of an ear-to-ear smile developing. When he eventually made it to my position I was beaming with pride and the full realisation of my achievement dawned; I was now a Commando in the Royal Engineers.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Green lid in my grasp

I now dared to think that the green lid could be within my grasp. Sadly a dark cloud had cast its shadow, as I discovered fellow trainee Joe’s injury had got the better of him, and he was unable to attempt the endurance test. My heart went out to Joe, who I know was giving his all to win the green lid. Words offer little comfort at times like these but I tried to reassure him that he would recover enough to have a stab at it later.    

Monday was the Nine Miler Pass Out. If I’m honest I was buzzing so much from passing the endurance, the nine-miler seemed like a breeze.  The highlight for me was being drummed back into camp by the Royal Marines Band. You hear people talking about the hairs on their neck standing up, well this is truly one of those moments.

Performing the rope regain on the Tarzan Assault Course

Performing the rope regain on the Tarzan Assault Course

Tuesday was the Tarzan assault course, and immediately afterwards Joe would make his first pass out attempt of the endurance after his ankle injury. After making a valiant effort to get through the course, Joe’s run of bad luck continued as he failed the shoot due to stoppages.

I was informed that I’d achieved one of the fastest time on the Tarzan Assault course. Where normally I might feel a sense of jubilation, Joe’s failure had been a tough blow and I was in no mood to celebrate.

More of the Tarzan Assault Course

More of the Tarzan Assault Course

That evening we were transported to Okehampton in preparation for the 30 Miler across Dartmoor. This march over undulating terrain is the final test to become a commando and upon finishing the course you are awarded your green beret. But this was to be tomorrow, so the most important thing was to try and snatch some rest before the final hurdle.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Three, two, one….. Go!

On Friday morning and with no time for rest we went straight from the field into a timed Tarzan run.

Sunday was a big day for me as it was the endurance test. For many who have embarked on Commando training, there is always one test that can weigh on your mind just a little more than the others. For me, it was the endurance course. When you run through at a relaxed pace it’s actually rather fun, however, add test conditions and it transforms into the most nightmarish of challenges.

I trudged to the start line with the rest of my syndicate, the ground underfoot sodden and slippery from the constant lashing rain. There were great feelings of trepidation mixed with excitement at attempting such a crucial test. The DS stood at the start line, and as he called out “Three, two, one, go!” I leapt into action.

You first hit the dry tunnels, which, on this occasion, would be better described as slimy mud tunnels. I crawled through ignoring the scrapes and bashes along the way. I then ran through the muddy gullies to Peter’s pool. This is a large stretch of water which, depending on your height and rainfall levels, can reach your mouth at some points. The water was near freezing and I involuntarily gasped as I entered the water.

Smarties tubes

Wading through Peter's Pool

Wading through Peter’s Pool

Out of the pool I pressed forward and ran through the gullies and up the hill, my water logged kit adding to the weapon and webbing weight, which made the task of running all the more difficult. I reached the next obstacle, the sheep dip (water tunnel), out of breath but fortunately in good spirits. Here you are reliant on the guys in your syndicate to push and pull you through the water tunnel as swiftly as possible. Getting stuck under the large slab of concrete isn’t the most pleasant of experiences, so you really put your trust in your syndicate comrades.  Fortunately the boys were on good form, and I was in and out within seconds.

Defining moment of the course

The Sheep Dip!

The Sheep Dip!

It was then on to the ‘Smartie tubes’ where you have to crawl through a series of stone filled tunnels that aren’t your knees’ best friends. Fortunately, my inner Rattus norvegicus (sewer rat for those not well versed in Latin) was in good order, so I flew through the tubes. I emerged from the final tunnel in a rather shabby state but I understood it was now just a case of ‘digging out’ on this last stretch – the four mile run back to camp. I knew I had to put my head down and give 100% maximum effort to get a decent pass.

When you get back to camp it’s straight on to the range for your marksmanship test, 10 shots on a 25 metre range simulating a 200 metre target, and you have to get a minimum of six on target.  I got all 10 shots bang on and I was eager to know my final time but it was not until a bit later that I found out. I had done it in 65.38.  This was the defining moment of the course for me as I had finished it in good time, the fastest time of the day in fact and I had overcome the anxiety I had felt about not being able to crack it.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Sapper Joseph